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6 Nations

Schmidt’s Fairy-tale Six Nations Ending

Joe Schmidt will coach Ireland in the Six Nations for the final time on Saturday but what has his time in the tournament been like?

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Photo By Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images

The 16th of March 2013, a day most Irish rugby fans have wiped from their memory as they finished their Six Nations championship in fifth place but exactly six years on and things couldn’t be any more different.

That poor finish was the final straw of Declan Kidney’s coaching reign of the national team. Things looked bleak, a loss to Italy was the lowest point of the tournament, change was needed, and that’s where Joe Schmidt came in.

Following a successful spell in charge of Leinster, during which he won two Heineken Cups, Schmidt decided to test the waters at international level.

There was a sense that something big could happen, but it’s a sense that Ireland felt after winning the 2009 Grand Slam, only to fall from grace and slump to fifth within four years.

When Schmidt took charge of his first Six Nations championship there was optimism but winning the tournament first time was above all expectations. The only loss that year was away to England in a 13-10 defeat.

A year later and it was a tournament nobody could forget, with Wales, England, France and Ireland all in with a chance of winning on the final weekend.

A thumping Welsh win meant Ireland needed to defeat Scotland by 21 points or more, they won 40-10.

That left England needing a 27-point victory or more over the French to claim the title. A 55-35 cracker of a game handed Ireland back to back Six Nations.

However, the defeat they faced that year came away to this Saturday’s opponents Wales.

In 2016 Ireland finished in third, while in 2017 a second-placed finish included ending England’s 18-game unbeaten run, but again there was a loss to the Welsh in Cardiff.

Last year, Ireland stormed to a Grand Slam, crushing everything in front of them. Leading to a No 2 ranking in the World Rugby standings.
This year has been a different story for the Kiwi and his troops with an opening day demolishing at the hands of England followed by scrappy wins over Scotland and Italy.

On Sunday, Ireland produced one of their best performances of the Schmidt era as they dominated France, keeping them scoreless until the final three minutes.

That win has kept Ireland’s slim hopes of retaining their title alive, albeit needing a win over Wales and a favour from a depleted Scotland against a rampant England.

Another championship would look amazing on Schmidt’s CV, but he has done that before, what he hasn’t done is win a match against the Welsh on their home turf.

This will be his third and final attempt to claim victory in Cardiff. A feat that would complete his CV and he is well aware of it.

“Yeah, it would be nice to tick it off,” he said when asked about the possibility of a win over the men in red.

Under Schmidt Ireland have developed into one of the best, if not the best team in the world, he has kept them in touching distance of the Six Nations in each of his campaigns.

It’s remarkable to consider.

He has been the man at the wheel behind every new record for the Irish in recent years and will go down as possibly the greatest Irish coach ever and will have hopes for more records at the World Cup later this year.

However, as he prepares to say goodbye to the Six Nations, exactly six years on from Ireland’s fifth-place finish, it would be fitting for Schmidt to leave Cardiff with the full-house of wins and who knows maybe even a fourth championship title to conclude the fairy-tale.

6 Nations

Leinster Star Considering Options as IRFU Talks Continue

Leinster could be set to lose another club legend with the IRFU playing hardball on a new contract

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(Photo By Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Rob Kearney is looking into all options with his current IRFU contract due to expire after this year’s World Cup

The Ireland and Leinster full-back was missing from Leo Cullen’s list of blues players that have signed new contracts ahead of next season.

Kearney’s manager Dave McHugh has confirmed that discussions are continuing with the IRFU and that the player would like to remain with Leinster.

“Discussions are ongoing with Leinster and the IRFU. We had hoped to have reached a conclusion by now. The discussion is live and open. But it has led us to check other options. We are still hopeful of reaching an agreement with the IRFU and Leinster,” he said.

It is believed that at least two French teams are weighing up the signature of Kearney, where he would earn a massive salary compared to his current contract with McHugh admitting that the money has a part to play.

“The IRFU has made Rob an offer. But if I am honest, it is well below where it needs to be – well below. It has been a little protracted. We are struggling to get it to a point where it makes sense for him,” he added.

At 33, Kearney is nearing the twilight of his glittering career but both he and McHugh want him to continue playing while he is still well able.

“It is Rob’s goal to continue playing rugby while he is fit and healthy and well. He is a starter both for his country and for his province. We need it to make sense for him. We appreciate there is an end point to his rugby playing career. But it isn’t yet,” he said.

With 21 contracts being announced yesterday McHugh explained that Kearney was absent as there isn’t the same urgency in his talks as there has been with other players.

“Rob is contracted to the end of the World Cup, so I guess we’re not in the same rush that Leinster were to announce their 21 new contracts for the start of next season. He wouldn’t return to the province until after the World Cup, so there isn’t the same urgency from our perspective,” he concluded.

Kearney’s future has been under much speculation for some time now and there was fuel added to the fire when teammate Sean O’Brien posted a possible farewell message on his Instagram.

O’Brien himself leaves for London Irish come the end of the season and unless the IRFU budge in Kearney’s discussions it appears as though Leinster could lose yet another one of their most decorated players.

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6 Nations

Leinster and Ireland Star Signs New Contract

One of Ireland’s key men has signed a new two-year deal with the IRFU

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Cian Healy has signed a new two-year deal with the IRFU to remain with Leinster and Ireland until the summer of 2021.

The prop is one of the country’s most consistent performers and is delighted to have the opportunity to continue representing both province and country.

“Pulling on a Leinster or an Ireland jersey is something that I have always taken a huge amount of pride in and I am thankful for every opportunity I get. I am delighted therefore to have extended my IRFU contract and to continue to line out for Leinster. I believe that we have built something special at Leinster and with the national team and I want to contribute as best I can to both teams in what will be a hugely exciting few months and years ahead,” he said.

Healy has faced a number of serious injuries over the years but has thanked everyone at club and national level for their support and looks forward to the future with both.

“There has been some difficult times over the last few years for me personally with injury but the support within the Leinster and the Irish rugby family was very humbling from fellow players, coaches and supporters and it’s something that I won’t forget. It made this decision all the easier knowing that I was part of something bigger than just a rugby team. I hope to play my part in helping Leinster and Ireland achieve further success over the next few years and I’m looking forward to the next chapter in that journey,” he added.

Having been capped by Ireland 88 times since his debut in 2009 and holding 207 Leinster caps to his name already Healy is almost ever-present and IRFU Performance Director David Nucifora paid tribute to his consistency.

“Cian is performing at a very high level week in and week out. He works incredibly hard in ensuring that he is physically in the best condition to perform and has bounced back from adversity to return to the top of the international and club game. He will continue to be a leading performer for Ireland and Leinster over the coming years,” he said.

Healy has represented Ireland at two World Cups (2011 and 2015) and will be hoping to be heading to a third in Japan later this year, he also represented the British and Irish Lions in 2013.

As well as that Healy has a host of winner’s medals to his name with three Six Nations Championships in the bag for Ireland, while with Leinster he has won four European Cups, three Guinness Pro titles and a Challenge Cup.

Healy will be hoping to end the week on a high when he has the chance to add a fourth league title to his name as Leinster head to Celtic Park to face Glasgow Warriors in the Pro 14 final.

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6 Nations

O’Shea to be Replaced as Italy Head Coach

Conor O’Shea is set to pass on the reins following the Rugby World Cup in Japan

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(Photo by Emmanuele Ciancaglini/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Cheetahs Rugby appear to have confirmed that head coach Franco Smith will replace Conor O’Shea as Italy’s head coach after the Rugby World Cup in Japan later this year.

The Italian Rugby Federation are yet to comment on the matter. However, the South African side have made the announcement and wished their current head coach the best of luck in a deal that is set to run until 2023.

“Franco was offered the opportunity to coach the Italian national side from 1 January 2020. The Board of Directors see this as a great opportunity for Franco and is proud of the fact that so many top coaches have been developed by the Free State Cheetahs. The Board of Directors is proud of and wishes Franco the best of luck with the opportunity to coach on an international level until the next world cup in 2023,” they said in a statement.

The statement also confirmed that Smith will remain with the Cheetahs for the Currie Cup to provide a smooth take-over in management, with the new head coach to come in for the start of the Pro 14 season.

Former Ireland international O’Shea has been in charge of the Italians since 2016 but has led them on a run of 22 Six Nations defeats in a row.

However, it remains to be seen whether O’Shea who has earned praise from the likes of Italy captain and legend Sergio Parisse for his work behind the scenes, will be offered a different role with the men in blue.

In his current role he is more of a director of rugby overseeing more than just the men’s national side and there has been huge development on the club scene with Benetton reaching the Pro 14 play-offs for the first time ever this season.

Having performed in a directing role at both London Irish and Harlequins before it would allow O’Shea to focus on one task and may even benefit the country’s development. Either way he will hope to finish on a high when his side head to Japan later in the year.

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